Journey to the centre of the earth’s climate apocalypse


Yandell Walton’s solo show Shifting Surrounds presents a speculative climate apocalypse through a series of immersive installations that take the audience inside the realities of how this global phenomenon might look, feel and sound – with terrifying results.

Uprise is an overwhelming digital tidal wave that engulfs the viewer, Internal Current a river of refuse, Oblivion takes a Tetrapack of orange juice into space, Connecting Systems is a forest of digital trees, a spookily mediated experience of nature, and Traces is a grey future rising from concrete rubble. A compelling accompaniment to them all is the ambient red light that emits from the digital clock in Deadline – which counts back the seconds to 2030, the point of no return predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), when the earth may reach the tipping point of 1.5 degrees of global warming.

For some 15 years Walton has worked with installations which merge architecture and projection. Yet in her practice a technological double edge is created: the work critiques the use of technology – the disconnection from the national environment that we create with screen culture – while each installation depends on extending the boundaries of such technologies.

“I am attracted to technology in one respect – this work draws you in – but it is definitely asking you to question your relationship with the screen. Using a computer-generated body of work to overtake the space (in Uprise), and motifs like the digital forest (Connecting Systems), allow a discussion,” she says. “I don’t have the answers as an artist. All I have is the ability to inspire potential reflection.”

This series of site-specific installations was shown at The Substation in Melbourne in 2019. Yet for Walton, it was “important to reshow this epic work. The first venue I thought about was NorthSite Contemporary Arts in Cairns. It felt right to bring this project back to my hometown.” While it required significant redevelopment given the site-specific nature of each installation, its resonance in this place is, she believes, particularly powerful.

As Walton explains, “Far north Queensland has amazing-eco systems that are in dire straits – the wet tropics and Great Barrier Reef, the rainforest. Potentially art that is not specifically bombarding you with theory allows space to interpret information in a way that raises questions.”

At NorthSite audiences have responded strongly – noting the haunting nature of the soundscape, and the disturbing and emotive content conducted through each installation.

Walton’s work is deliberately speculative, in the realm of science fiction, yet vested in the statistical realities of climate change. It creates an “experiential bedrock” that has the potential to inspire change in its audience. The last work she made in this series was Deadline, which she describes as “really alarming.” This, the artist points out, was her intention. “I did want to hit people over the head a bit with the tension of this countdown – and the endpoint – if we can’t sort it out.”

Shifting Surrounds
Yandell Walton
NorthSite Contemporary Arts
13 February – 10 April

Preview Words by Louise Martin-Chew